March 29, 2019 3:52:44 pm
Children’s author Khyrunnisa A, who created the Butterfingers series, talks about inculcating the love of reading in children and growing up reading comics like Rchie Rich, Little Lotta,Tintin and Asterix.
Butterfingers (or Amar) is a popular character in Tinkle magazine. How did you make it transition into a book?
Contrary to what many people believe – that I wrote the Butterfingers stories in the comic strip version directly – my Butterfingers stories were actually long and were scripted by a script writer for Tinkle. I had always wanted to get the original stories published as a collection in book form when I had the required number. When I approached Penguin (Puffin) with these stories, the editor suggested I write a humorous novel centering around the same characters and with Green Park School as the background. I adapted my first Butterfingers story for the purpose. Turning a short form fiction into a novel has its own challenges but it isn’t difficult. Besides, I had always felt my first story had the potential to be expanded into a novel. That was how Howzzat Butterfingers! took shape and the other books in the series followed.
How is it writing about stories from school? Where do you draw from?
I think school stories are great fun and I had always enjoyed them; I still do. Some of my favourite school-based reads have been Antony Buckeridge’s Jennings series, PG Wodehouse’s school stories, delightful boarding school novels by a long forgotten writer called Angela Brazil, Enid Blyton’s school books and others. I love sports too. So it wasn’t at all difficult to imagine a school setting, games-crazy school boys and their (mis)adventures, since with a hero who is clumsy, it is mostly mishaps that he initiates. I taught at a school and later at a college and this contact with school children and college students who are often overgrown children certainly helped. I keep my eyes and ears open and that’s enough to inspire a variety of themes. Bringing up my son Amar (I later gave his name to Butterfingers) also contributed to my repertoire of incidents that acted as a trigger for stories.
Since you’ve been associated with Tinkle as well, what do you think of kids reading comics?
I stopped writing for Tinkle in 2015, but I think children reading comics is fine as long as they don’t get stuck in that genre. They should go on to reading books, for there’s nothing like reading books to broaden the mind and strengthen long-term memory. Not to mention, of course, that the joy one gets by reading books is very special. When we were kids we were discouraged from reading comics and the reason given was that it would ruin our language skills – what rubbish!
I think children still read and enjoy comics and with graphic novels coming into the picture, comics have got an added fillip. But I don’t know too much about the comic scene at present.
What are the comics that you read growing up and what were their creative influences on you?
I read quite a lot of comics growing up – Harvey comics that included comics based on characters like Sad Sack, Little Lotta, Casper, Richie Rich and others, Indrajal comics where we devoured stories about Phantom and Mandrake, Tarzan comics, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Classics Illustrated comics, Schoolgirl Picture Library, War comics, Dennis the Menace and so on. Later I read Tintin, Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes, which continue to be my favourites. I don’t know whether they had any creative influence on me. I’m not a writer of comics; it just happened that my stories got converted into comic strips. But I enjoyed reading them.
Any comics that you can recommend to kids?
I’d go for my favourites–Calvin and Hobbes, Tintin and Asterix.
What are the challenges and joys of being a children’s writer in India?
It’s a special feeling, to be able to bring happiness to children. My books are humorous and I want children to laugh and enjoy reading them. When children tell me how much they love Butterfingers, how they laughed their way through the novels and the stories, I feel vindicated as a children’s writer. If my books can act as stress-busters for children, that makes me happy.
The challenges, of course, are many. There are way too many distractions for children in the form of gadgets, and the instant gratification that they give has lured them from books. Thanks to their addiction to the screen, their attention span has diminished and children no longer have the patience for sedate activities like reading. Over-emphasis on academics by some parents has not helped either.
Any message for parents?
Give your kids love and space to grow. Screen time should be substituted with time for sports, outdoor activities, board games (with the active participation of parents) and, most certainly, reading books.
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